· Name: Justin Vigdor
· Family: Married to Louise; Children Robert, Jill, Lisa and Wendy; 8 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren
· Occupation: Attorney at Bond Schoeneck & King
· Volunteer Focus at Federation: Original recipient of the Benjamin Goldstein Award, Past Chair of Professional Advisory Committee of The Foundation of Jewish Federation, Past Board member of Federation; Past President of Jewish Family Service; Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council
1. What does being Jewish mean to you?
“I grew up in an Orthodox home largely influenced by my maternal grandmother, who lived with us. She came to the United States about 1900 and spoke very little English. I became “emancipated”, so to speak, in my very early teens. I always had part time jobs and became very active in various clubs and especially the Boy Scouts with which I went on camping trips and hiking trips. My Orthodoxy gradually vanished. In In my late teens I attended lectures at the Society for Ethical Culture which featured humanistic Judaism. I always felt a strong Jewish identity. Consequently, when I attended a Catholic law school. I felt a bit like a square peg in a round hole. However I became President of the Student Body and an editor of the law review; and made lifelong friends there. My wife grew up in a secular Jewish home. When our first child arrived, we decided to become somewhat more observant. We began to light a candle on Friday nights. At that time I was in the Army in Washington, D.C. As a Captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps most of my time was spent in the Pentagon, trying cases and arguing appeals. When I left the Army in 1954, we decided not to return to New York City, but to live ‘upstate.’ Of course, being a New Yorker, my definition of upstate was Yonkers. However I applied to firms in both Rochester and Syracuse. My first job offer came from Rochester, to which we moved in August of 1954. We decided to join a congregation, originally Beth El, then when our children started Hebrew School, B’rith Kodesh.
While, as I said, I feel a robust Jewish cultural identity. I have problems with most of the Bible, but I feel strongly that Judaism’s ethical teachings are of enormous value.”
2. How have Jewish values inspired your activism?
“The concept of tikkun olam has always motivated me. I’ve always felt people have an obligation to repair the world little by little, piece by piece. For example, when I was still new to Rochester, I joined the board of the Day Care Training Center for Handicapped Children – now the Mary Cariola Children’s Center. I became president and expanded its scope and mission, so we could better coordinate services to special needs populations, children and adults. I raised the capital and provided counsel to bring the agencies together under one roof--the Al Sigl Center. To help low-income people receive legal aid, I was founder and first chair of the IOLA [Interest on Lawyer Account] Fund, appointed by the governor. I’m also one of New York’s five Uniform Law Commissioners, working with counterparts in every state to make state laws more uniform. I recognize that we cannot repair or eliminate all the problems we see around us – the needs, the poverty, the illness, but I believe that, as lawyers, and as citizens, our obligation is to do whatever we can to make this world a better place.”
3. Besides the Al Sigl Center and the Telesca Center for Justice, you launched the Rochester Fringe Festival and created the Senior Lawyers Section of the state bar. How do you start so many things from scratch?
Bar service has always been a great source of satisfaction. I was President of the Monroe County Bar Association in 1976 and the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) in 1985. I created the NYSBA’s Senior Lawyers Section in 2006. I was aware that the bar had a whole generation of baby boomers. The section was needed to keep senior lawyers active and involved, to encourage them to do pro bono work and to provide seniors the benefits of the services provided by bar association: ending discrimination against elders, mandatory retirement issues, estate and retirement planning, travel and recreation. To bring those services together in one package had value. As for the Fringe Festival, when I agreed to help develop the First Niagara Fringe Festival into an annual event, I teased some of the organizers: ‘I can’t sing, dance, play an instrument or act; why do you want me?’ They said, ‘You can chair.’ The Festival has grown each year, and we’re now in our seventh season.”
4. Can you share some interesting things about yourself?
“I’m left-handed but I was forced as a boy to write right-handed; and accordingly my handwriting is illegible. I did ice dancing as a youth and only stopped skiing a few years ago. I’m not retired yet, because I’m a terrible golfer.”